Letters from Mother

8 March 2013 by Sarah Starkey

Photograph of young man in maritime navy uniform

Willie Dailey, apprentice, c1886 (Maritime Archives reference DX/1924).

This handsome young man is Willie Dailey of Stafford who decided he wanted a life at sea and persuaded his parents to apprentice him on a voyage of the ship Benares, from Dundee to Chile and San Francisco, USA.  It was 1886 and he was 16 years old.

The Maritime Archives and Library hold some letters by Willie and his family and the ones from his mother would be achingly familiar even today.  His worried mother, Jane, tells Willie to mind his manners, wash his clothes and eat well.  She hopes his Captain is kind, his crewmates friendly and that he is warm enough, dry enough and not sea sick.  She tells him off when he fails to write. 

The forms of communication may be different to today, but the emotions are just the same.  Jane mentions at least 4 other children, so she certainly had her hands full, but seafaring was, and still is, a dangerous life, so she must have been deeply concerned for his safety and wellbeing.  Two of Jane’s letters are from 1906 and by this time Willie has a wife and child.  His mother is less worried about him and writes instead about the wet summer weather, another topic that is familiar today.  But as we approach Mothering Sunday, spare a thought for worried mothers, waiting for their children to get in touch.

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